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Dalai Lama Speaks Out; President Obama's Afghanistan Decision Close?

Aired October 8, 2009 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And my exclusive interview with the Dalai Lama. He explains why he is not disappointed that President Obama isn't meeting with him while he is here in Washington. Questions about human rights, China and whether the Obama administration is kowtowing.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now, President Obama appears to be getting closer and closer to getting to the heart of America's problems in Afghanistan. After days of consultations, we are told he and his top national security advisers finally may start talking about troop levels as early as tomorrow.

There are conflicting reports about what the president may ultimately decide. The Associated Press now is throwing out this possibility. It quotes a senior Obama administration official as saying that Mr. Obama is prepared to accept some kind of Taliban involvement in Afghanistan's political future.

Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He is working this story for us.

What are you hearing about all of these deliberations, Ed?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what's interesting about that report and some others, they are suggesting not just that the president will be shifting away from a focus on the Taliban, but a much more robust focus on al Qaeda, which would suggest a smaller U.S. footprint, that he wouldn't need to send up to 40,000 U.S. troops, as General Stanley McChrystal has recommended.

But I have talked to very senior officials, some of whom have been in the room for these Situation Room deliberations, who insist that that conclusion has not been drawn by the president yet, and that a lot of this is premature conjecture and in fact that the president is going through all these various options very carefully. And I have been told by very top officials that, in fact, the president is still even considering sending up to 40,000 U.S. troops and giving General McChrystal what he wants.

That is not off the table yet, so some of this is a bit premature, Wolf.

BLITZER: When do we think we will get the final answers, A, on the strategy, and, B, on the troop commitment?

HENRY: The most important part is the strategy. And we are going to see another urgent meeting here tomorrow in the Situation Room, the president's fourth meeting on that. And a fifth meeting will come next week.

And then what I'm hearing is, it is very likely there will be some sort of announcement either later this month or very early in November that the president wants to make sure that he is getting the strategy right before he gets it done fast, that the guiding principle here is to make sure that, finally, after eight years of war in Afghanistan, that the strategy is right moving forward. And that's why they are not going to rush into this, Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry is watching this at the White House. Thank you.

Let's get to some surprises now tucked into that huge defense spending bill just approved by the Senate this week. Like many pieces of legislation, it contains some lawmakers' pet projects.

We decided to dig deeper, with the help of a watchdog group, to give you a better sense of the way your tax dollars are being spent.

Let's go to our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. She's been looking into this for us.

What are you finding out, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we looked into, Wolf, a practice that is perfectly legal, but, to some, still a troubling practice here in Washington. And it is one of the intersections of politics and taxpayer money.


BASH (voice-over): A promotional video for Infinia Corporation, developing a solar-powered engine to produce hot water and electricity for the troops in the field. Infinia is headquartered in Washington State. Washington Senator Democrat Patty Murray got a $3 million earmark to fund Infinia's project.

It turns out Infinia executives have given more than $10,000 in campaign contributions to Murray in the last two years.

(on camera): People looking at this might say, quid pro quo?

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D), WASHINGTON: Absolutely not. I work hard for my state, for everyone who comes to me. We work hard to make sure that the appropriation requests we ask for create jobs and are good for the people in our communities.

BASH (voice-over): But the watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense says it's a problem.

RYAN ALEXANDER, PRESIDENT, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: And when we see big contracts, big earmarks going to private companies that also happen to have made large campaign contributions, it raises real questions in the mind of the public.

BASH: Ryan Alexander's group looked at senators on the powerful committee in charge of defense spending and compiled a lengthy list linking hundreds of millions of dollars in pet projects to campaign contributions.

Republican Richard Shelby topped that list, for example, $3.2 million for Radiance Technologies in his state of Alabama to develop new sensors for unmanned aerial vehicles. That company's employees donated $38,500 in campaign cash to Shelby since 2007. The senator refused an on-camera interview.

And when CNN caught up with him in a Capitol hall way, he said this.

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I don't even know who I get earmarks for and I don't know who gives me money.

BASH: But Shelby's spokesman did give us a statement, saying he does know and defends it, saying, "He secures appropriations based on merit, not contributions, and provides a full justification for his requests on his Senate Web site."

Shelby's office also said his projects contribute to national security.

(on camera): Hi, senator.

(voice-over): That's what Maine Republican Susan Collins said when we asked about $10 million she got for Maine's General Dynamics to make lightweight machine guns and grenade launchers. She says the Pentagon needs it.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: My motivation is to help fill the gaps, the gaps in weapons and equipment that our troops need.

BASH: Collins got nearly $60,000 in campaign contributions from General Dynamics' employees, no quid pro quo, she insists, and no apologies.

COLLINS: The workers and executives who have contributed to my campaign have done so because they feel that I represent the state of Maine well. They have never, ever implied any kind of condition.


BASH: In fact, a spokesman for General Dynamics told us that the reason why they support in campaign contributions Senator Collins is because she is a -- quote -- "strong backer of national defense."

And, Wolf, I also spoke to a top executive at Infinia in Washington State who gave the maximum amount of money to Senator Murray in terms of campaign contributions. He said he only did it because she is a strong backer of green jobs, not because of the earmark -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much. Good reporting.

The House Ethics Committee voted unanimously today to expand its investigation of one of the most powerful members of the United States Congress. That would be New York Democrat Charlie Rangel, the chairman of the powerful House, Ways and Means Committee.

That is the committee responsible for all tax-writing. The Ethics panel is looking into Rangel's alleged failure to report hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of assets on financial disclosure forms required by Congress. Yesterday, House Democrats defeated a Republican resolution that would have forced Rangel to step down from his chairmanship while the investigation is under way.

Rangel has said he is the victim of a smear campaign.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty once again. He has got "The Cafferty File" Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: A little good news if you are looking for a job without success. Senate Democrats now say they have reached a deal to extend unemployment benefits to almost two million Americans who could stop getting checks by the end of this year.

The plan will given an extra 14 weeks of benefits to unemployed people in all 50 states. And those in states with unemployment above 8.5 percent will get another six weeks on top of that. Senate Democrats may bring the measure to a floor vote as early as tonight.

The House passed its own bill last month that would extend benefits for people only in states with unemployment above 8.5 percent. The bills would be paid for by extending a tax on employers for another two years.

So that all these extra benefit payments don't wind up adding to the deficit, instead, the money will come from the people that we are counting on to create the new jobs, employers. That part doesn't make any sense.

Time is of the essence here. More than 400,000 Americans ran out of their unemployment benefits in September. Benefits vary from state to state, starting at 26 weeks and going all the way up to 79 weeks in states hardest hit by the recession. Average payment, about 300 bucks a week.

The national unemployment rate stands at 9.8 percent. That is a 26-year high and it is expected to go higher into next year, even as the economy begins to recover. Estimates are that there are now six workers for every available job opening.

So, here's the question: Should there be a limit on how long people can collect unemployment benefits? Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. A lot of people suffering out there. No doubt about that.

Is the White House about to mount an all-out war against one cable news channel? It says that particular news channel is -- quote -- "opinion journalism masquerading as news."

And why is President Obama being compared to former President Bush? You may not believe how the president is urged not to repeat so-called errors made by George Bush.

And the spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, he is here in Washington. He has met with every other president during his last 10 times in the nation's capital. So, why isn't he meeting with President Obama this time? Does he feel snubbed?


BLITZER: The White House is taking a more aggressive tone in its media strategy, at least where one news outlet is concerned.

We want to talk about that and more with the best political team on television. Joining us, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger, Republican strategist Tony Blankley, our chief national correspondent, John king, Nia-Malika Henderson, White House correspondent for Politico, and our senior political analyst David Gergen.

David, Anita Dunn, the White House communications director, and "TIME" magazine, in an article entitled "Calling Them Out: The White House Takes on the Press," she says this of FOX News. She says: "It's opinion journalism masquerading as news. They are boosting their audience, but that doesn't mean we are going to sit back."

You once dealt with communications at the White House for Bill Clinton. Is this a smart strategy?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a very risky strategy, Wolf. It's not one that I would advocate.

I understand why Anita Dunn, for whom I have a great deal of respect, and her colleagues in this White House are angry and frustrated by some of the coverage they have gotten. It's gotten pretty contentious out there, as you know, and part of that is showing up in cable news and elsewhere. So I understand why they are frustrated.

Wolf, I have -- if you're going to get very personal against the media, you are going to find that the animosities are just going to deepen and you're going to find that you give -- you sort of almost draw viewers and readers to the people you are attacking. You build them up in some ways. You give them stature.

If you are going to get into this kind of thing, I think it's -- you know, the press always has the last barrel of ink, it has long been said.

(LAUGHTER) GERGEN: And you often find yourselves not winning that. And I just keep wondering, if they are going to do this, why don't they take this over to the DNC, over to the Democratic National Committee, and have their struggles like that fought out over there, and not out of the White House? I have real questions about that strategy.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think they are going to do that as well, David.

But I think the feeling over there, from talking to folks, is -- and you know this -- the first rule of campaigning is, don't let your opponent define who you are. And I think there was a sense that maybe they were sitting back too much, particularly over the summer, and letting their opponents define them, the talk of death panels and all the kind of stuff about health care.

And there was a sense that maybe they weren't aggressive enough in protecting their president and defining -- and defining the issues. Now, that may have been a problem with health care because we weren't quite sure where the president was on it. So, that was a big part of their problem. So, I think a strategy to fight back.

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I mean, it's correct that they probably weren't as assertive as they should have been on the issues.

But going after a news organization, in my experience is, is always a loser.

BLITZER: You used to do it when you worked for Newt Gingrich?

BLANKLEY: On occasion, not because I really wanted to, but...

BORGER: Because the boss wanted you to.

BLANKLEY: Newt got angry at "The Atlanta Constitution." And for a number of months -- it was his hometown paper -- justified -- their reporting at the time was I thought terribly unfair, but it ended up being a cause celebre. They reported anyway, because you can always report around the newsperson by talking to every -- all their enemies around town.

And they have a big audience. And FOX has an audience, not just conservatives. They have got liberals and moderates who watch, too. They have got Obama supporters who are watching. So, it's a temptation for politicians, but it needs to be resisted.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And David Axelrod had coffee with Roger Ailes, the head of FOX News, in New York during the United Nations General Assembly.

And if that was an attempt at detente, Anita Dunn's quotes are going to, shall we say, blow up any peace talks. It is a -- it is a difficult moment. In your travels, Wolf -- I travel quite a bit -- and in your travels you do get this polarization, and that is what the White House is worried about.

But David and Tony know this better than me and Gloria from campaigns. The environment is polarized. And if they further polarize it by getting into a fight with Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly and others at FOX News, it is the congressional Democrats on the ballot next year who will be at risk in this polarized environment.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Yes. Obama has been only a boon to their ratings. And I don't understand how this kind of escalation of rhetoric and kind of taking them on one-on-one would do anything other than escalate their ratings even more.

BLANKLEY: It does something else. It lowers the prestige. I mean, if you're president or speaker, at a certain level, you don't want to be seen to be engaging that kind of petty bickering.

You know, if you are just a congressman, maybe you can do it, but at that level, I think...


BLITZER: Let me move on and read from an editorial in "The Washington Post" entitled "Plan B for Afghanistan."

"Such a choice by Mr. Obama would hardly amount to a surrender in what he called a war of necessity. It would, however, repeat the strategic errors of the Bush administration, mistakes that left the mess the new administration is facing in Afghanistan and that brought Iraq to the brink of catastrophe three years ago."

David, let me start off this round with you again.

He has got a tough choice, the president of the United States, right now.

GERGEN: He has an extremely tough, and it has become an agonizing choice and become frankly altogether too public.

Having said that, "The Washington Post" has a point. If you -- the Bush administration tried to minimalize the number of troops it put on the ground in Iraq. That failed. And they had to go to the surge strategy. That worked. They tried incrementalism in Afghanistan and it never really succeeded. And the Taliban now has the momentum.

What "The Washington Post" is saying in effect is if you do a halfway strategy, if you try to split the difference between those who want to go in big vs. those who want to sort of pull back as much as possible, that you can wind up with the worst of both worlds.

I think that the administration has to take into account that line of reasoning as they work their way through this, whether a middling strategy truly could be a successful strategy. BLANKLEY: But not only is it somewhat like what Bush did in Iraq for a while. It's an awful lot like what the Soviets did in Afghanistan. If you look at what they were doing in 1987, eight years into their war, they were beginning to try to -- they didn't bring up troops. They had about 140,000 total. We have got 100,000, asking for one 40,000 more.


BLITZER: The U.S. has 68,000. NATO has another 40,000.


BLANKLEY: Yes, right. So, together we have...



BLANKLEY: So, the numbers are similar. They didn't up their levels. Instead, they tried to pass it off to their local -- their government, Afghani government. It didn't work. They tried to do it too quickly, and then they had to skedaddle in '89.

So, I think falling between the cracks not only is not going to be effective, but there's almost a moral dimension. I mean, we shouldn't be sending our guys there unless we are ready to do everything we can to win. If we are going to spend a couple years and then lose, it is painful to think what happens.

BORGER: It is going to be interesting to see how the president defines his strategy and whether he does it cleanly, whether he says, OK, we are going to stick with a counterinsurgent strategy, which would, of course, require many more troops, or we are going to go to what Joe Biden wants, which is this counterterror-plus, as he calls it.

And this is a president known for kind of trying to split the difference in certain arenas. And in this case, many foreign policy experts say, if you split the difference, you wind up with the status quo or worse. And, so, that's the choice. And...

KING: And its fundamental problem out in the country is the American people have lost track of what the mission is.

BORGER: Right.

KING: After 9/11, they knew it was to get the guys and get the launch site for 9/11. Now they don't know what it is. Is it the Colin Powell rule, the Pottery Barn rule, we broke it, we need to fix it, nation-building in Afghanistan? Is it just hunting down the Taliban? Is it defending the border so Pakistan can go after al Qaeda on the other side?

If you ask people out in the country, Wolf, what is the mission, you get a big shrug. (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: All right, guys. Hold your thought, guys, because we're going to continue this. We have got a lot more to discuss as well.

Also coming up, there's been a big change in runaway -- runway incursions, I should say, those dangerous moments at an airport when airliners get way too close. We are going to tell you what's going on and it may surprise you.

And several powerful Republicans outside Congress are calling for the Republicans in Congress to stop their opposition to comprehensive health care reform.



BLITZER: The Dalai Lama tells me he doesn't feel snubbed by President Obama. Just ahead, my exclusive interview with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. I will press him about Mr. Obama's refusal to meet him now while he is in Washington and what he hopes to get from the administration down the road.


BLITZER: Has he made a firm commitment to you that he will press the Chinese for Tibet's human rights when he meets with them in Beijing next month?


BLITZER: And Nancy Pelosi fires right back at Republicans. The House speaker says no one should be trying to put her in her place.


BLITZER: It's an issue many of you and so many people indeed around the world care about, China's control of Tibet.

It is a longstanding source of tension facing China. As the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, visits Washington this week, we want to remind you of this. The United States government recognizes Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China, but the U.S. is concerned about human rights abuses in Tibet.

And the push for Tibet's independence gets considerably more international support and celebrity attention than similar movements elsewhere around the world. Human rights abuses and other issues involving Tibet are all things I discussed with the Dalai Lama today in an exclusive interview.


BLITZER: Your Holiness, thanks very much for allowing me to interview you.

Let's talk about an important issue in your relationship with the United States right now. You have come to Washington many times, 10 times since 1991. And, each time, an American president has received you. The first President Bush, President Clinton, the second President Bush.

You are here in Washington right now, and President Obama will not see you during this visit. How disappointed are you?

DALAI LAMA, EXILED TIBETAN SPIRITUAL LEADER: Meeting with a president, particularly meeting with an American president, usually, I have something, some political agenda, yes, obviously (INAUDIBLE) issue. So, now, president soon go to Beijing.

BLITZER: He goes to China next month?

DALAI LAMA: Yes, next month.

So, he already sort of indicated that he is going to speak to the Chinese. And it seems that he (INAUDIBLE) seriously engaging with Chinese about Tibet issue, and besides some other issue, global warming, all these things.

BLITZER: Has he made a firm commitment to you that he will press the Chinese for -- for Tibet's human rights when he meets with them in Beijing next month?

DALAI LAMA: Yes, it seems as if there is some indication. So, therefore -- therefore...


BLITZER: ... a personal -- a personal commitment to you that he will raise the issue of Tibet...

DALAI LAMA: Yes, he will raise...

BLITZER: ...when he meets with the Chinese?

DALAI LAMA: Yes, definitely. The (INAUDIBLE) Obama, before his election, he telephoned me. And then afterward, I have some correspondence with him. So he seems very, very (INAUDIBLE) but he really wants something practical level to sort of do -- do something.

BLITZER: By what...

DALAI LAMA: So -- so -- so -- so -- so -- so -- so, therefore, this time, in order to avoid embarrassment to the Chinese president -- and, also, I recovered some -- some sort of message through some (INAUDIBLE) channel or private channel, some through my -- my Chinese friends, also (INAUDIBLE).

So, therefore, I think that it is better, in some cases, not just to show a picture of a meeting. I think -- I think more serious discussion is better than just a picture... BLITZER: So...

DALAI LAMA: (INAUDIBLE) so I have no disappointment.

BLITZER: You have no disappointment.


BLITZER: But you -- your representatives asked for this meeting at least twice and they were disappointed when the White House said no.

DALAI LAMA: Yes. At -- at the beginning, (INAUDIBLE) is they made some effort. Then I sent a message, don't do that.

BLITZER: It looks like the U.S. -- the Obama administration is more concerned about its economic relationship with China, military relationship, political and diplomatic relationship than the human rights of the situation in Tibet -- at least that's the criticism that has been leveled against the president for not meeting with you this week.

DALAI LAMA: Yes. Well, this is also, you see, I know some facts. At some point there -- but, you know, we have to think more holistic. So one thing I'm quite sure he will raise the issue and he personally was very much sort of engaged about the issue. So I have no regret.

BLITZER: You don't have a date when you will sit down with President Obama?

Is there a date yet?

DALAI LAMA: I think within this -- the end of this year or the beginning of next year.

BLITZER: So by the end...

DALAI LAMA: Yes, sure.

BLITZER: By the end of this year, 2009, the beginning of 2010, there will be a meeting...


BLITZER: ...between you and President Obama?

DALAI LAMA: Sure. Yes.

BLITZER: Where will that meeting take place?



DALAI LAMA: In Washington. BLITZER: At the White House?

DALAI LAMA: I think so.

BLITZER: But you don't know for sure?

You think so?

DALAI LAMA: I think so.

BLITZER: It's been arranged already?


BLITZER: Has it been arranged already?

DALAI LAMA: Actually, you see there's some kind of (INAUDIBLE) a commitment there, a commitment there.

BLITZER: There is a commitment from the White House?


BLITZER: There is a commitment. The secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, she said back in February that -- that U.S. concern for human rights, she said, should not interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis, as far as U.S./Chinese relations are concerned.

Did -- did that worry you, that statement, that, yes, the U.S. is concerned about human rights -- including human rights in Tibet, of course -- but there are other issues that are very important to the United States in terms of its relationship with China?

DALAI LAMA: I didn't -- oh, I understand this. That's for timing. Some emergency things -- you see these are priority -- economy, crisis, global warming and these things. But that does not mean that the U.S. forever is that these are more important than the basic human values or basic American values. I don't think.

BLITZER: The -- your representatives had talks with Chinese government officials that broke down in 2008.

Do you see those talks with China resuming?

DALAI LAMA: Well, there's some indication from some private channel, we see (INAUDIBLE) -- we see some possibility.



I don't know. And I don't know.

BLITZER: You want to have a direct dialogue with China?


BLITZER: Would you...

DALAI LAMA: I -- I consider myself as a free spokesman for the people. So these educated, well (INAUDIBLE) people who are really more political minded or are well-informed of the situation, the reality. So Gergen people, they send a request to me or suggest to me the keeping dialogue no matter what sort of an empty hand. But it's still better to keep this relation.

So, from our part, yes, we're always ready to talk and that.

BLITZER: What's next for you?

You're 74 years old.

DALAI LAMA: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: How much longer do you want to continue...

DALAI LAMA: I don't know.

BLITZER: the leader?

DALAI LAMA: I don't know. (INAUDIBLE) until my death.

BLITZER: Your holiness, thank you so much for spending some time with us with and good luck to you.

DALAI LAMA: Thank you.

Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Cracks in the wall of opposition -- why some major Republican figures are now calling on GOP lawmakers to help pass health care reform.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reacts to Republicans who say she needs to be put in her place.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm in my place. I'm speaker of the House -- the first woman speaker of the House.



BLITZER: Cracks are now emerging in the Republican opposition to President Obama's health care reform efforts. The best political team on television is back to talk about that and more.

Joining us once again, our senior political analyst, Gloria Borger; Republican strategist Tony Blankley; our chief national correspondent, John King; Nia-Malika Henderson, White House correspondent for Politico; and our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

Let me read to you, Nia, from Richard Wolf's article in "USA Today" entitled, "Division Fizzes Up within GOP Over Resistance to Health Plan." "Concern that -- concerned that their party may prevent progress on one of the nation's most intractable problems, several governors and former Washington power brokers are calling on Republicans in Congress to help pass a health care bill."

Is that going to go anywhere?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO: Well, I mean the White House certainly loves this and the DNC obviously loves this, too. I mean, they're sending out releases, you know, pointing everybody to this -- this fissure and the fact that Bloomberg and Schwarzenegger are all on board with -- with health care. And it really is reminiscent of the stimulus fight. You had, you know, Republicans really digging in their heels -- you know, Congressmen and senators digging in their heels against the stimulus plan. And then you had governors kind of coming out and saying they really need that money.

So I mean it's -- it's a win for the White House because it -- it really kind of gives them kind of a kind of moderate way to kind of talk about -- to talk about health care (INAUDIBLE)...

BLITZER: Because Bobby Jindal, John, the -- the governor of Louisiana, he wrote an op-ed piece this week saying we've got to find a way to work together on this problem.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And yet he would not support the existing Democratic legislation. Governor Jindal made that clear. He does think that the Republicans have to be very careful not to be seen only as obstructionists, that they need to do a better job convincing the American people that they have an alternative.

That's hard when you're the minority party. Tony can tell you that from his days in Congress.

And -- and some Republicans do want to say no, because they believe there's political gain in blocking the president. But many Republicans in Congress have significant ideas and it's a big policy debate. But Governor Jindal's concerns, they're being drowned out.

TONY BLANKLEY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Yes, look, the media gives very little coverage to the policies of the minority and -- so nobody knows the Republican plans. There's no way in the world that Republicans are going to endorse anything that looks like the kind of inventionist/statist kind of policy that's going to pass.

BLITZER: You're talking about the public option. But the public option probably won't be in the Senate version.

BLANKLEY: I mean...

BLITZER: So why can't the Republicans support... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: ...what the Senate...


BLANKLEY: Spending $1 trillion, even if it's paid for with taxes and cuts, which could otherwise be used to bring down the biggest deficit in history is not something that Republicans are going to support. Now, you've got a couple of liberal Republican governors and they are outliers for the party. They don't represent where the American -- where the Republican voters are. And they're saying what they're saying.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Here's the truth -- their strategy is working. The just say no strategy is working. You see when -- when you ask people, who are you more likely to vote for, a Democrat or a Republican, their numbers have gone through the roof. They're 15 points higher for Republicans than they were a year ago. So this -- this strategy is working for them.

In the long-term, it may not work. But right now, they're looking at the mid-term elections and they're saying wow, OK.

BLITZER: I'm going to let David Gergen weigh in -- go ahead, David.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Wolf, I think the combination of the -- Democrats have had two big victories this week. One is the Congressional Budget Office analysis yesterday. And now this rift is developing. So that when a Bill Frist -- he's not some liberal governor out there. This is a conservative who was a -- you know, was a Republican leader in the Senate. When he endorses this, you get these other kind of names out there.

One of the impacts of that it's going to be it may make it a lot easier not only for Olympia Snowe, but possibly for one or two other Republicans to ultimately support a bill in the Senate. And that would make a big, big difference.

So I think there is political significance to these Republicans outside the system speaking out.

BLANKLEY: Let me just point out, Bill Frist's family owns a hospital -- well, a number of hospitals. The Hospital Association sees profit in -- in the president's plan. That's why they're supporting it. And so he's not speaking necessarily just as a Republican, he's speaking as a man had who has equity participation in a very profitable hospital.

BORGER: But there's also something to be said for the White House calling the Republicans' bluff in the House of Representatives and saying to them, look, OK, here are the things we agree on. He can do it on health care if he wants. He can do it on son of stimulus if they need some more economic stimulus with tax credits for small business, for example. He can continue -- he can start doing that, calling their bluff and then you would see whether Republicans would go along in the House, as well as those couple of moderates Dave was talking about in the Senate.

BLANKLEY: Yes, I think the strongest issue the Republicans have is the size of the deficit and the debt.


BLANKLEY: And they can't support a program -- wouldn't want to -- that -- that doesn't deal with that.

BLITZER: John, let me -- let me play this little clip from the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, because she's been criticized by Republicans who say she needs to be put in her place.

And this is her response.


PELOSI: It's really sad. They really don't understand how inappropriate that is. I'm in my place. I'm speaker of the House -- the first woman speaker of the House. And I'm in my place because the House of Representatives voted me there. But that language is something I haven't even heard in decades.


KING: This is a woman who is incredibly proud of the fact that she is the nation's first woman female speaker. And that's why you see her jaw clenching there as she fires back.

But, again, Wolf, we can have this conversation as a bunch of reasonable adults and say, well, is it -- put a woman in her place, that's bad language. But we're in an environment where the Republicans understand how unpopular she is and they are playing to their base. This is all about the midterm elections Gloria talked about. And Nancy Pelosi is now the leading lightning rod for Republicans in the country, much like the old Jesse Helms/Ted Kennedy battles years ago.

And is the language offensive?

The Speaker certainly thinks so.

But are the Republican using her to gin up their base?

You bet.

BORGER: You know, I think -- I -- I think Nancy Pelosi said they didn't understand. I think whoever wrote this did understand exactly what he was doing. Maybe she wrote it. It was very purposeful. It was to draw attention to what they're trying to talk about, which is, you know, her failed economic policies or Afghanistan or whatever it is. And here we are (INAUDIBLE)...

BLANKLEY: On this one it was Afghanistan and it was pointing out that -- that the general had better advice.

No, but you're exactly right. I mean when I was up there -- I mean, if you're in the minority...

BLITZER: When you were up where?

BLANKLEY: Up working for Newt on the Hill -- and you're not -- before he became speaker. When you're in the minority -- and the same thing for the other party when they're in the minority -- nobody pays attention unless you -- and this -- the media only is -- pays attention if you're nasty or rude. And -- because the media is tropic (ph) to -- to that kind of personality clash.

So once they've said that nasty thing and used that, you know, nasty language, then you've got national TV covering it and they can raise their point.

HENDERSON: The GOP, though, has a woman problem.

GERGEN: Wait a minute. Hold it.


HENDERSON: Sixty percent of women...


HENDERSON: ...actually identify either as Democrats or Democratic lean -- leaning Independents. So this certainly doesn't help their strategy of trying to, you know, broaden their base.

GERGEN: Yes. Tony -- I want to just ask Tony a question, Tony Blankley.

Tony, would you have issued a statement with sexist language in it like that?

BLANKLEY: Well, I wouldn't have used (INAUDIBLE)...

BORGER: Careful.


BLANKLEY: Yes, I would not have...


BLANKLEY: I would not have used sex. But let me tell you what we did, because we were holding a press conference. It was like 1992. We had a -- a tax cut that we couldn't get a vote on on the floor. And Newt held a press conference and we got no coverage. We went back a day or two later and Newt said, Tom Foley, comma, "that thug," wouldn't let us have a vote.

Then we got the coverage and -- and the media had to explain why Newt was calling him a "thug" just because we couldn't get our tax cut proposal on the floor. We desperately wanted the public to know we were for tax cuts.

That's the dilemma, because the media...


BLANKLEY: ...covers that.

GERGEN: If the -- I'm -- I'm sorry. Tony, there was a time when with the Republican Party believed that if you could advance ideas, you could get attention.


GERGEN: And what you're saying is you have to -- you have to really...


GERGEN: You have to use personal insults.

BLANKLEY: You have to attach the idea...

GERGEN: (INAUDIBLE) I just don't believe that to be true.

BLANKLEY: You just have to -- you have to attach the idea to something the media will cover, because -- because they won't cover -- they didn't cover the Democrats when they were in the minority on their alternative proposals to...

GERGEN: But do you have to use -- do you have to use personal insults?

BLANKLEY: Unfortunately...


BLANKLEY: ...the media defines what...

GERGEN: ...the way the Republicans (INAUDIBLE)...

BLANKLEY: The media -- yes.


BLANKLEY: The media defines what it's going to cover and when you're polite, the media doesn't cover it.

BORGER: Well, but the idea...

BLANKLEY: And that's the sad truth.

BORGER: But the idea gets lost here.

BLANKLEY: No, it doesn't.

BORGER: We're not talking about the idea. The -- the clip we showed was of Nancy Pelosi defending herself against those Republicans who wanted to put her in her place.

BLANKLEY: This particular clip. But all over town, they're talking about the reason that they -- they did that, regarding the general and her lack of knowledge about expertise in -- in military matters. So, yes, it works and...

BORGER: Even though she's been a rank -- been a ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, right?


BLANKLEY: I'm just saying that, you know...

BLITZER: I think the bottom line, Nia, in what Tony is saying is the Republican statement had used the phrase "she needs to be put in her place, but she needs to be corrected" or something like that, it wouldn't have generated the -- the interest that it obviously has now generated.

HENDERSON: Right. And in some ways, he's right. I mean, if you think about what Joe Wilson did, the "you lie" comment on the floor, I mean, all of a sudden, he got attention for, you know, talking about immigration and the problem with immigration in -- in the health care...


BLANKLEY: That's the way Washington works.


HENDERSON: ...worked in that instance.

BLITZER: We'll leave it on that note, guys.


BLITZER: David, hold your thought.

GERGEN: It represents a sad decline...

BLITZER: All right. It represents what, David?

GERGEN: Please.

BLANKLEY: I agree, David.

GERGEN: It represents a sad decline in politics when...

BLANKLEY: I agree.

GERGEN: ...when people don't agree -- I mean Ronald Reagan did not have to use that kind of language to have the power of ideas and power of persuasion. It's a sad decline.

BLANKLEY: Well... BLITZER: All right...

BORGER: I agree.

BLITZER: On that note, we'll leave it, David Gergen and company.

Guys, thanks very much.

Our Political Ticker coming up next.


BLITZER: On our Political Ticker right now, the father of Sarah Palin's grandchild definitely knows how to get media exposure. We told you about Levi Johnston's new TV ad for pistachio nuts. Now get this -- the 19-year-old reveals he'll pose nude for "Playgirl" magazine. His lawyers say Johnston hasn't yet reached a formal agreement with the online magazine, but he's already getting ready by training three hours a day, six nights a week over in an Alaska gym.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Why do you do that to me?

I'm supposed to sit here and treat these issues seriously.

BLITZER: I know.

CAFFERTY: Pistachios and "Playgirl" magazine. That's quite an operation, that clan.

The question this hour, should there be a limit on how long people can collect unemployment benefits?

Robert writes from Bowie, Texas: "We helped the car dealers, the banks, Wall Street and many other countries. I think we can help the people that have worked and paid taxes for years and now can't find a job. I think we should help them until they find work. These are good, hardworking people in my town. They cannot help the situation they're in."

C. writes, San Angelo, Texas: "There ought to definitely be a cap on how long somebody can be on unemployment. I know three people on unemployment. They're milking it as long as possible. They have no reason not to, it's free money. If you don't have many bills, what's your motivation to work when you can just wait six months and get paid while you're waiting?"

Jennifer in Cincinnati: "Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Watching the news reports out of Detroit today, thousands of people lined up for energy bill assistance, really drives the point home. I can't think of a better investment than extending unemployment benefits for struggling Americans right now keeping money in their pockets is a short-term immediate economic stimulus, as well." Monique writes: "Yes. I've had it with how many people are collecting unemployment. It's disgusting. There should be a three month limit only. If you're out of work for longer than that, it's your choice. There are jobs out there, but people think they're too good for them and that's why they're unemployed. People complain to high heaven that they can't find work, but their kids still have cell phones and cable TV."

R.E. writes: "What do you say we extend unemployment benefits until all the jobs that were sent overseas are brought back to this country and the money that will pay all of the out of work American workers will be charged to the same corporations that outsourced those jobs."

Barb writes: "My husband here in Silicon Valley, California would greatly benefit from this extension. He's about to lose his benefits this month. I'm exhausted being the only breadwinner and hopes of him finding another job are grim."

If you don't see your e-mail here, check my blog at

I'm going to go to the gym now and see if I can get in shape to pose for some magazine.

BLITZER: We'll look forward to that, Jack.

CAFFERTY: I'll bet you will.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Let's check in with Lou to see what's coming up at the top of the hour -- Lou, what are you working on?

LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, thank you very much.

A possible strategy shift in Afghanistan -- we'll be looking at the possibility the president wants the Taliban now as a partner in Afghanistan's future. That's right.

We'll also examine, is it time to bring our troops home -- the only option the president refuses to consider.

And the Senate Finance Committee is set to vote on the health care legislation it produced. Republicans say the price is too high. Democrats want to raise taxes. Others say it's just a sham.

Also tonight, the Obama administration is top heavy with czars.

What do they do and why are they doing it?

We'll have a Face-Off debate on that.

Also, where else but California would voters try to deal with a bankrupt state government, an economy in meltdown and an education system that's a national embarrassment. It turns out the answer is much of California wants to get stoned -- to get high by legalizing marijuana and taxing it, potentially another new first for the Golden State.

Please join us for all of that and a great deal more at the top of the hour -- Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Lou, see you then.

Thank you.

Here's a question -- what would you pay for a hunk of the king's hair?

A "Moost Unusual" item goes under the hammer.

Jeanne Moos has it covered.


BLITZER: The king is gone, but apparently Elvis left behind a hunk of hair.

Jeanne Moos has more on a Moost Unusual item up for auction right now.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Elvis may have left the building...


MOOS: But he left some hair behind and now you can bid on it. Ask the auctioneer.

(on camera): So what's it like to run your hands through Elvis' hair?

LESLIE HINDMAN, PRESIDENT, LESLIE HINDMAN AUCTIONEERS: It's very exciting, Jeanne. Really exciting.

MOOS: Is it soft?

Is it course?

HINDMAN: It's kind of course. And, you know, he dyed his hair.

MOOS: Dyed or not, he had a great head of hair, be it young Elvis singing "Heartbreak Hotel" or old Elvis saying aloha from Hawaii.


MOOS: The haircut we all remember came in 1958.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Recognize Elvis? He lost his hair to the Army.

MOOS: Private Presley gave some of that hair to the president of his fan club, Gary Pepper. Pepper had cerebral palsy.

HINDMAN: And Elvis befriended him and kind of took care of him his entire life.

MOOS: Pepper died years ago and now his nurse has put Pepper's collection up for bid at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. The hair is the highlight.

(on camera): Did you smell it?

Did you smell his hair?

HINDMAN: It doesn't smell like much, Jeanne.

MOOS (voice-over): It's been authenticated by the world's foremost hair collector -- the same man whose clump of Michael Jackson's hair is being turned into carbon and made into diamonds. Yes, that's possible. It was a charred clump of hair picked up and saved after that Pepsi commercial accident, the footage of which was obtained by "US Weekly."

(on camera): So how much is a clump of Elvis' hair worth?

Well, on the low end, they're saying maybe $12,000, but they're hoping for over $100,000.


MOOS: "Blue Suede Shoes" may not be up for bid, but other odd Elvis items have been auctioned elsewhere, from prescription pill bottles -- minus the drugs -- to Elvis' American Express card. And hair has been auctioned before. But a hunk of hair like this is rare.

(on camera): Do you comb it?

HINDMAN: No, I don't comb it.

MOOS (voice-over): It's hard to imagine that 51 years after this haircut, treat me nice still applies.


MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: There's nobody like the king.

That's it for us.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up next, Lou Dobbs -- Lou.